By Margret Kopala

Published in The Conservative, the Newsletter of the Progressive Conservative Association of Ottawa West (Federal), June 1994

We planted a fruit tree in our backyard last fall. It has been a long time coming - investing in a future that is - here in Ottawa. Arriving in 1986, we dragged our heels every inch of the distance from the open skies and open hearts of Alberta. As they say, however, the National Capital is good place to raise children and we needed to settle, to have a home. And now, for those of us increasingly caught up in the affairs of the nation there is no better place to be - this place, more than ever, perched on the brink of history.

The house we found in Ottawa West is small but good, built in the fifties, a full fourteen hundred square feet of sound construction. Like so many homes in the area, it had been superbly maintained and updated by the original and only owners. Just the landscaping needed work.

The tree was purchased on a Friday then, on the Saturday, Robert prepared the earth. Sunday, in it went. Daniel, now ten years old, was busy elsewhere as this ritual took place, but no matter. Shared experiences and traditions are important to us and our little family have more than enough to be getting on with. On the Monday, Canada elected a new government.

We all know now that the election of October 26, 1993 was no ordinary election and that the resulting Parliament is no ordinary Parliament. Like Robert, Daniel and myself in 1986, many Members arrived in the National Capital unprepared to make this place their home literally or in any sense figuratively. Few dragged their heels getting here but some are marking time until they can find a new one. Others want to change it, perhaps beyond recognition. None have remarked upon the civility of a place which allows arrangements such as these. Perhaps, like the concept of ‘home’ itself, it is enough that it exists.

It is understood that, structurally, Canada’s political home is not as sound as it might be. For the moment at least, it is also understood that the country is too fatigued to agree upon and to implement the necessary renovations. Still, we can all see what lies ahead, that the accomplishments of the last 127 years by a promising young country called Canada may be thrown asunder or at least fundamentally altered. Implicitly, as the prospect of a Parti Quebecois victory in Quebec looms, Canada’s federal system, its structure, is under siege. But if the fatigue of constitutional discussions past prevents an immediate and renewed attempt at fortification, the need to lay the groundwork for future attempts is not so easily excused. Anything less will compromise an orderly approach when the time, finally, does arrive. All citizens have contributions to make but none more so than those who are members of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

Experiencing an unwelcome but needed respite in the political wilderness, the Progressive Conservative Party is now able to reflect and achieve perspective not only on its past but on its enormous potential in rebuilding for the future. For as the Party rebuilds, so will the blueprint, the tools and the material for renovating the federal home become manifest.

Through this important time, the Progressive Conservative Senators, as the government’s only national opposition voice, can keep vigil and sound the alarm when the Liberal government fails to preserve or assert the national interest. Will it resolve the contradictions in a ‘jobless recovery’ or implement Ottawa economist Gail Stewart’s idea of ecological development? Will it pay down the mortgage that now threatens Canada’s social and economic security? Will the Prime Minister, with his unique knowledge of every nook and cranny in the federal home, invite Canadians inside to assess its workability for themselves?

While the Senators guard the Canadian heritage, the Party can listen and learn as the Bloc Quebecois and the Reform Party assert the respective Sovereigntist and Federalist positions. Will these positions, in a multicultural world increasingly concerned about the effects of consumerism, mass technology and American pop culture, be worthier and more achievable than the status quo? What about federal, provincial and municipal jurisdictions? What about process, Senate reform and patronage?

The failure of the New Democratic Party of Canada to define the role of political parties in relation to society’s group interests adds an important reminder. For if labour and business the home’s providers, who are the homemakers, the civilizing force? Where and how should these interests function? In the courtrooms? In the political backrooms? In the streets?

Addressing these questions, breaking new ground and fundamentally altering the political landscape, the Progressive Conservative Party can create a higher version of the nation state. Here, all interests - transnational included - will enjoy the dignity conferred not merely by rights or mobility but by participation in and contribution towards the workability of the whole.

But the greatest task befalling the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada is to synthesise then integrate the New Thinking into its oldest, deepest traditions and to prepare to govern at another time in another way. Political life being cyclical and the House on the Hill being remote from the vast land that surrounds it, we can be sure that the governing Liberals will lose touch or simply tire under the burden of day to day governance. And, not to be forgotten, gnawing away at the structural underpinnings, flourishing in the singular absence of the compelling national vision all Canadians seek, is the regional impulse. The structure could, after all, simply crumble. So the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada must ensure that after all the assessments, after all the processes, after all the plans have been drawn, agreed and executed, that what remains is something more than structure and landscape.

For a house, finally, is not a home. A home is the sense of place that results from experiences shared over time, of rituals - the rituals of producing and sharing food and enjoining the day’s activities, of seasons, of celebrating new life or grieving its loss. And in the same way that the concept of home defines the culture of its inhabitants, or that personal welfare, laws and language, spirituality and art are its highest expression, so too must Canada’s political home be defined.

It may mean having another Prime Minister from Quebec - one who will supervise the renovations of this excellent new place so soundly constructed by, for and truly worthy of the great Canadian people. For like the newly forming buds that Daniel discovered on our fruit tree during this, the week that spring finally arrived in Ottawa, the bilingual fruits of trees planted in bygone years may not be ripe for harvest. And someone fully competent in both official languages will surely be required for the job.

Margret Kopala

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